UN Experts Allege Human Rights Violations by PFAS Chemical Giant in North Carolina

COMMON DREAMS, Olivia Rosane, November 28, 2023 

In a letter to Chemours, the experts said they were worried about the company’s “apparent disregard for the well-being of community members, who have been denied access to clean and safe water for decades.”

United Nations human rights experts have expressed concerns over “alleged human rights violations and abuses” against people living along the lower Cape Fear River in North Carolina due emissions of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, from a Fayetteville chemical plant.

Five U.N. experts signed letters to Chemours—the plant’s current operator—as well as DuPont, Corteva, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Dutch environmental regulators. The action marks the U.N. Human Rights Council’s first investigation into an environmental problem in the U.S., The Guardianreported Tuesday.

“We are especially concerned about DuPont and Chemours’ apparent disregard for the well-being of community members, who have been denied access to clean and safe water for decades,” the U.N. experts wrote in the letter to Chemours.

“We hope the U.N.’s action will induce shareholders to bring DuPont and Chemours in line with international human rights law.”

The Fayetteville Works manufacturing plant has been releasing toxic PFAS into the environment for more than four decades, according to the allegations detailed in the letter. PFAS dumped in the Cape Fear River have made it unsafe to drink for 100 river miles, and pollution from the plant has contaminated air, soil, groundwater, and aquatic life.

PFAS are a class of chemicals used in a variety of products from nonstick, water-repellent, or stain-resistant items to firefighting foam. They have been linked to a number of health issues including cancers and have earned the name “forever chemicals” for their ability to persist in the environment and the human body. One study found PFAS in 97% of local residents who received testing.

The letter also repeated allegations that DuPont, the plant’s previous owner, and Chemours, a spinoff company, had not taken responsibility for cleaning up the local environment and compensating community members, and that DuPont had known about the dangers of PFAS for several years, but chose to hide this information from the public.

“We remain preoccupied that these actions infringe on community members’ right to life, right to health, right to a healthy, clean, and sustainable environment, and the right to clean water, among others,” the U.N. experts wrote.

The letters were sent in response to a request made in April by Berkeley Law’s Environmental Law Clinic on behalf of local environmental advocacy group Clean Cape Fear. In the request, the groups said the matter was particularly urgent because Chemours plans to expand its making of PFAS at the plant.